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    1media ownership 1media ownership Document Transcript

    • FILM INDUSTRY: USING YOUR CASE STUDY PART 1: The issues raised by media ownershipSome background• the pre-war studio system was based on a principal of Vertical Integration where the studio had ownership of all stages of a film’s life from pre-production through production, distribution and finally, exhibition.• The Paramount Decree put a stop to this in 1948 but since the mid-70s we have seen a re-assertion of Hollywood’s power as the studios have been integrated into huge media conglomerates (A conglomerate is a collection of diverse companies not bound by common activity or product, but often reinforcing – even promoting each other’s interests).• The danger here is that a sort of oligopoly emerges (the control of a market for a particular product by a small group of companies in which no one company is dominant…but where the combined of the companies makes it difficult for other companies to enter the market).What are the issues raised by this for:PRODUCTION – film production is dominated by films made by themajor studios. Projects are given the green light because they:  can reach large, global mass audiences  have huge potential spin-offs in other areas of media (games, merchandise etc) • It is difficult for films made by small independent production companies to compete against products made by huge media conglomerates. • Films that appeal to particular sections of the audience are more difficult to get made (films for older people). • Also, it is difficult to make a film that reflects local/national themes or issues and films in a sense need to have universal (or at least trans-atlantic appeal if they are going to be made.DISTRIBUTION & EXHIBITION – • Independent films have to seek a distribution deal with a distributor to make sure their film reaches an audience. By contrast, the major studios have their own distribution arm, and the distribution and marketing planning of a film can begin months (even years) ahead of release. 1
    • •What is more, the studio can bring the huge financial power to bear on the distribution and marketing of the film to make sure that the film is given the very best chance. • Independent distributors cannot compete with the spending of the distribution arms of major studios.AUDIENCE – • The argument here is that audiences are bombarded with films from major studios. • Smaller, more independent films are edged out of the marketing spotlight, often go unnoticed and are difficult to see (at least in cinemas). • This raises serious questions about the range and diversity of films that reach the cinema. • More challenging, intelligent and artistic productions (independent and arthouse films) are overlooked in favour of mainstream blockbusters etc.CASE STUDY – Working Title FilmsA film producer creates the conditions for making movies. Theproducer initiates, coordinates, supervises and controls matterssuch as fundraising, hiring key personnel, and arranging fordistributors. The producer is involved throughout all phases of thefilmmaking process from development to completion of a project.Working Title’s first film My Beautiful Launderette (Frears, 1985)was part-financed by Channel 4. It is quite typical of the industrythat a small independent production company should seek co-production deals, financial support and investment from largermedia companies. Interestingly, because the investment came fromChannel 4 it was originally intended that this would be a made-for-TV film, but the film was highly praised at the Edinburgh Festivaland subsequently came to have a theatrical (cinema) release.Tim Bevan of Working Title describes how they financed films inthose early days: “In those days for me, and still now if you are an independent producer, you get a script or project and get a bit of money from the UK and the rest from pre-selling to distributors around the world. This was not a totally satisfactory state of affairs because you have no single strategy for releasing the film and its very hard to make your money back.” “Before that we had been independent producers, but it was very hand to mouth. We would develop a script, that would take about 5% of our time; wed find a director, thatd take about 5% of the time and then wed spend 90% of the time trying to juggle together deals from different sources to finance those films. The films were suffering because there 2
    • was no real structure and, speaking for myself, my company was always virtually bankrupt."After a few years, Working Title developed a close workingrelationship with Polygram (a large media company that wasmostly active in the music industry). Although Working Title had astrong independent ethic, it had to seek financial support andinvestment from other media organisations. At that stage, WorkingTitle was what Tim Bevan describes as “a company that’sindependent in spirit but with studio backing”’Polygram Filmed Entertainment was sold and merged withUniversal Pictures in 1999.Universal Pictures is a division of Universal Studios(http://www.universalstudios.com/). Universal Studios is part ofNBC Universal, one of the worlds leading media andentertainment companies in the development, production andmarketing of entertainment, news and information to a globalaudience. Formed in May 2004 through the combining of NBC andVivendi Universal Entertainment, NBC Universal owns andoperates a valuable portfolio of • news and entertainment networks, • a premier motion picture company, • significant television production operations, • a leading television stations group • world-renowned theme parks.NBC Universal is 80% owned by General Electric, with 20%controlled by Vivendi.Universal Pictures (or more specifically theirdivision Universal Pictures International) own amajority stake in Working Title Films. Essentially,Working Title Films now make films for Universal.Essentially, Working Title Films is now part ofUniversal Pictures which is part of Universal Studioswhich is part of NBC Universal: a major multinational,multimedia conglomerate.NBC Universal is an example of a company that is able to have amajor impact on the market partly because of horizontalintegration (it operates so many different industries which(potentially) can all have a positive impact on each other. The waysin which its different companies and subsidiaries might work incombination is an example of Synergy. 3
    • What does this change in ownership mean for Working Title?We might assume that this is a bad thing in terms of theindependent creativity of the company. However, the two co-chairman (Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner) are keen to emphasisethat as part of their arrangement with Universal, they can stillgreen-light their films:Whats the difference in your relationship with Universalthan it was with PolyGram?Tim Bevan: “Previously we didnt have the power to green-lightourselves but now we have considerable creative autonomy and canin fact green-light something if we want to. I should also point outthat we really try and keep our budgets as low as possible and wewont green-light a film if we think the budget is greater than whatwe think the film is worth.”The success of their films has secured Working Title a degree oftrust from the studio bosses in Hollywood: "They are uniquebecause they do everything so well," says Universal chairman MarcShmuger: "how they work with the talent, and the incredibleresponsibility with which they manage productions and costs.Whats unusual, even unprecedented, is how consummately capableand responsible they are.”It is significant that Working Title have stayed in England andalthough they have a small office in Hollywood, their operation isvery much based in London. The core pool of talent on which theyrely is also English. Variety Magazine describe them as being“transformed into one of the cornerstones of UniversalPictures while remaining true to their British roots and indiespirit.”In writing about media ownership you can argue thatWorking Title has not been completely swallowed up byUniversal and instead has simply gained the security to makethe films it wants to make.Fellner says: "I guess technically not owning the company meanswe lost control, but the way the film business works is that itspeople-driven rather than structure-driven. Tim and I are byprofession film producers, and the business of Working Title isproducing films. By dint of that we get to run it how we want.”"The production company itself will never be a profitable company.The value is not in ownership of the company but in part ownership,as we ultimately have, of the rights of any film made." 4
    • Bevan says: . "We turned the whole thing upside down. We werenow part of a big structure, so we spent much less time on findingthe money and much more on developing decent scripts ... Its nosurprise that two or three years after [1992] we started to have aconsiderable amount of commercial success from those movies."According to Bevan: "When we were independents we were verywary about the studios. But what we realised through ourexperience with Polygram is that being part of a US studio structureis essential if you want to play the long game in the moviebusiness. Six studios control movie distribution worldwide. Thevarious supply engines, like talent agencies and marketing people,understand the studios and everyone who is playing seriously in thefilm business will be part of a studio structure."So how involved are Universal?Universals involvement will vary widely from project to project.Bevan gives two contrasting examples - Pride and Prejudice,starring Keira Knightley and with a budget of just over $20m, andThe Interpreter, a thriller directed by Sidney Pollack and starringNicole Kidman and Sean Penn. "With Pride and Prejudice they saidOK - they hadnt met the director, they didnt question any part ofthe casting, when they saw the movie they were delighted with it.The Interpreter is patently a huge movie, one of their cornerstonefilms of the year. By the time youve taken into account marketingand so forth, its a gigantic investment. Collective heads are on theline for a film like that, rather than just our heads."In other words, if there is a lot of money resting on the film,Universal will want to be more heavily involved. If not, they arehappy to trust Working Title to make the correct decisions.With Universal’s backing, Working Title have considerable financialclout and can invest in large-scale projects. It is worth noting that“They have a bigger development production fund than the whole ofthe UK Film Council.”"If an independent producer wants to get a film off the ground thenBevan and Fellner can make it happen on a big scale. They areworld players but have a big impact in the UK. Can they get aproject off the ground just by picking up the phone? Yes."Being part of Universal does not mean, as some of you havesuggested in essays, that Working Title Films do not have to worryabout money any more.Yes, they do have the security of bigger budgets for production andthey don’t have to chase around for deals with independentdistributors. 5
    • But, they still have to come up with projects that are going to workand indeed, you could argue that there is more pressure on them tosecure the sort of box office success that Universal expects.What can we conclude from the Working Title experience. - Independent production companies simply cannot sustain themselves and grow without investment from major media organisations? - Investment is necessary if production companies are not going to spend all their energy chasing funding. With the security of studio backing, they can devote their energies to the development of the film. - It could be argued that Working Title has managed to retain its British identity and made resolutely British films despite its involvement in Universal. Interestingly, however, you could argue that the version of Britishness that it promotes is packaged for American audiences and distorts the reality of modern British life. Historical/Heritage Dramas – Atonement (literary adaptation), Elizabeth, Elizabeth: the Golden Age White upper/middle-class rom-coms; Bridget Jones’s Diary; Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Four Weddings and A Funeral, Love Actually, Pride and Prejudice. • Looking at it very cynically, you could even argue that Working Title shows how it is not possible to sustain a genuinely alternative/subversive approach to film- making. It is ultimately necessary to ‘sell-out’ to a big audience and ultimately ‘sell-out’ in terms of chasing the biggest audience. It is arguable that My Beautiful Launderette (1985) the first Working Title film was also the most radical/controversial/political/subversive. • It is also interesting to note that Working Title has a very strong and long-standing relationship as producers of films by the highly successful American film-makers Joel and Ethan Coen. They have described their role as very hands-off and it is difficult to see these films as being British in any real way. Also, with films like Sydney Pollack’s The Interpreter (starring Nicole Kidman) Working Title are also now involved in producing very mainstream American films and it could be argued that their involvement is a further step away from their British roots. • The recent film State of Play is an interesting example of the Americanisation of Working Title. It’s made by a British Director (Kevin Macdonald), has a British star (Helen Mirren) and is based on a British TV drama set in 6
    • Britain (State of Play written by Paul Abbott). However,no doubt to appeal to an American audience, the film’saction has been transplanted to Washington DC and thefilm stars a major Hollywood star, Russell Crowe. 7